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February 10, 2011, Thursday

Does Turkey need an Egypt shaped on the Turkish model?

Americans know now that the Turkish prime minister has more sympathizers in most of the Arab countries than the very leaders of those countries. At least Seymour Hersh is claimed to have said so. Wrong comparison! An imaginary leader may have more sympathizers in some of the Arab countries than the local leaders. The Arab street hates the Arab leaders. To have more support on the Arab streets than the local leaders is not a merit. Of course, we know that these “street support surveys” are made to garner support for the already famous “Turkish model” in Arab capitals.

The Turkish model is like a cat that has nine lives. It was imposed upon the Arab imagination during the most unsuccessful years of that model even. The logic of the suggestion was quite simplistic: Turkey is a Muslim and secular-democratic country; why shouldn’t other Muslim countries be so also?

The problem in this logical inference is that its major premise was -- and to a large extent still is -- wrong; Turkey has never been a “Muslim and secular-democratic” country. We have a largely Muslim population, true. But our secularism is not secular and our democracy is only recently becoming a mature one. It will take one or two more elections and several referendums for Turkey to get rid of its anti-democratic institutions and institutional traditions. Offering an imperfect democracy to the Arab countries is at best an insult, saying the Arab peoples are inept at developing their own models, and at worst it is an Orientalist prejudice that this is the best they deserve. “Nothing better will fit them, you know!”

Our economic development is dazzling indeed, but it does not offer a model for gas rich-labor cheap Egypt. The problem in the Egyptian economy is not about its resources or about legal arrangements. It is about a thousand families that are consuming all the economic resources of the country. Egypt has been turned into a country that belongs to a small, happily rich elite. By means of its energy resources and the large and highly educable population -- almost everybody knows English in Egypt, despite the fact that it is an Egyptian English -- Egypt has much more potential than Turkey to flourish economically. To me İstanbul is the most beautiful city in the world and it is just time consuming to spend time in any other city for any other reason than pilgrimage, but for many tourists Egypt is still attractive with its civilizational riches. This country has one of the largest agricultural potentials in northern Africa. Now, Turkey is moving towards an export-oriented economic development model. Egypt would do better in production, agriculture and tourism. Why should they look for a Turkish model?

Indeed, one may learn from the Turkish experience. Let me remind our Egyptian friends a few of the lessons I noted for the Egyptian revolutionists:

First, Hosni Mubarak is everywhere. You will find small Mubaraks at the top of each and every state institution. Sending Mubarak abroad is not a solution in itself -- it is a major step forward, of course -- but you have to move the periphery to the centre.

Second, you will need a middle and upper-middle class that will support new and democratic movements, that will finance change and that will be the power base of new artistic, scientific and philosophical developments.

Third, you will have to include your women into the political process. Women are much more creative during the birth of a new national consensus that will govern the future of your country. (By the way, this is not a lesson from Turkish success; this is a lesson from the Turkish failure.)

Last, but not least, you have to privatize and pluralize your media. With a media that belongs to the old guard you cannot keep the will to change among the public alive.

Egypt does not need a Turkish model to construct its bright future and Turkey does not need an Egypt built on the Turkish model. I would love to see an Egypt that shines on the Egyptian model.

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